Launching wooden product line - Vote your favorites

Today we kicked off the first stage of a campaign to offer finished wooden products, and we're starting by asking you which are your favorites. We'll move forward with the products that are the most popular.

The "voting" stage is the first phase of a broader campaign,  whose eventual goal is to provide people in the U.S. handcrafted wooden items for the home, made by talented Panamanian woodworkers. By employing Panamanian woodworkers to create the products--instead of shipping the raw lumber to the U.S.--more of the value of these precious woods stays in the Darien.

Most of the wood that leaves the Darien--one of the few remaining biodiversity hotspots in Central America--ends up going straight into Panama City, with minimal processing, and minimal benefit to the local economy. If we can succeed in connecting consumers with woodshops in Panama, then more of the value of these beautiful woods stays in local communities.

The indigenous Emera and Wounaan communities safeguard some of the last remaining stocks of the coveted cocobolo wood (dalbergia retusa). The trees are culturally and economically important for these groups because they provide the wood for their incredible carvings. Unfortunately, cocobolo trees are increasingly poached by opportunistic loggers and settlers, depriving the communities of a valuable resource. If we succeed in stimulating the demand for their carvings, then perhaps the communities will invest more in their traditional artistry and redouble their efforts to protect their cocobolo stocks . 


ETFRN Issue 57: Effective forest and farm producer organizations

European Tropical Forest Research Network issue focuses on organizations that work with smallholder farmers and forest-dependent peoples.

The European Tropical Forest Research Network recently released its 57th issue, focusing on effective forest and farm producer organizations. The issue is a compilation of case studies from organizations that represent the collective voices of farmers and forest-dependent peoples, indigenous groups and rural communities.

We wrote a sidebar on page 196 of the report which covers our plantain intercropping efforts over the past two years to increase near-term revenue.

Vote for OpenForests to win the MIT Climate Colab Competition

Photo by Yves Picq

Photo by Yves Picq

We were honored to be included as a key collaborator of OpenForests as part of their submission to MIT’s Climate Colab Competition on Land Use and climate change. OpenForests’ submission was selected as one of ten semi-finalists.

Planting Empowerment and OpenForest began our collaboration a few years ago when PE when we listed one of the first projects on OpenForests' forest investment marketplace. The marketplace showcases timber plantation projects that meet their best-of-class social and environmental criteria.

For the Climate Colab Competition, OpenForests is pitching their sustainable forestry management platform that connect forest investors with information on the financial and biological progress of their projects. It’s a great tool that PE expects to use in the future as we streamline our reporting and plantation management processes.

The contest runs for a couple of more days and OpenForests needs your help to secure the popular vote. We encourage you (yes, somewhat selfishly) to vote for OpenForests’ submission. If they win, they will have the opportunity to present the project at MIT’s climate colab conference in early October.

Could timber plantations conserve forests in Panama?

Deforestation and conversion to cattle pasture in Panama

Deforestation and conversion to cattle pasture in Panama

A recent study conducted by CIFOR questioned whether tree plantations support forest conservation. The results show that they potentially support conservation, depending on a number of other influencing factors.

The authors’ more macro-level findings, which were based on an exhaustive review of published literature, were inconclusive. As with many questions related to forest conservation, the answer was, to paraphrase “It depends.”

There is a commonly held assumption in Panama, or at least the Darien, that timber plantations will ease pressure on the harvesting of timber from native forests. Our anecdotal, non scientific experience is that that isn’t true. Case in point: we’ve been trying to sell thinnings of high-value tropical species like spanish cedar (cedro amargo), mahogany (swietenia macrophylla), and oak (tabebuia rosea) for the past two months, but there is only demand for timber from primary forests. These are not early-stage thinnings, but they still can’t compete with the large timber coming out of first-growth forests in the Darien.

Establishment of timber plantations in the Darien happens after the high value timber has already been cut out (degradation) and usually after further clearing for agriculture/cattle (deforestation). In Panama it is illegal to clear primary forests to establish plantations, and no significant amount of primary forest has been cleared specifically for a timber plantation (that we’re aware of). We did recently learn that near Meteti, a large swath of forest in the Filo de Tallo reserve/peat swamp was under threat by a “Colombian” who was going to plant palm oil.

The authors of the report did find strong linkages to reduced deforestation and degradation when fuelwood plantations are established. However, degradation or deforestation for fuelwood is not a significant problem in the Darien, so plantations for fuelwood would not relieve any pressure on natural forests.

Probably the best approach to preserving forest cover is pairing stringent conservation laws and the establishment of protected areas with the development of timber plantations.

This is good match for Panama, and to their credit, the new government and Ministry of Environment (ANAM) have taken measures to control forestry activities in the Darien.

It will be interesting to see whether these measures actually increase demand for plantation-grown timber among the local sawmills and furniture producers, who consume the most timber domestically.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in buying 10,000+ board feet of genuine mahogany, spanish cedar, and oak, let us know!

5 Priorities for Panama's new Environment Ministry

Last week Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela signed into the law the existence of the Environment Ministry, formerly the National Environment Authority (ANAM). This move signals that environmental issues will receive more consideration as Panama's political agenda develops.

Mirei Endara, the head of the new ministry, outlined five priority areas in a recent interview:

1. Changing the Ministry's procedures to be more efficient and transparent, looking specifically at technology investments. This would include an analysis of the Ministry's environmental impact study framework to identify areas of improvement.

2. Stimulating eco-tourism in protected areas. Tourism in general has been growing in Panama over the past few years, but this has contributed to over-development in sensitive environmental areas.

3. The Alliance to Reforest 1 million hectares of trees over the next 20 years. Announced several months ago, this initiative could mean more incentives for smallholder farmers to plant trees on their deforested land.

4. Addressing climate change by promoting low-carbon development.

5. Water, including better management of watersheds, increasing access to clean water in rural areas, and better information and monitoring systems. This would start with a baseline inventory of all the water systems in Panama to understand their quality and integrity, though it's not certain that would extend all the way out into the types of rural villages where we work.

We'll be watching and reporting out on these items as we see new developments.